09 Dec 13. The Pentagon is fighting an uphill battle against a fractured Congress eager to rein in deficits, though lawmakers thus far appear either unwilling or unable to do so in a sound and practical manner, according to a recent analysis by Forecast International.
“The discord on Capitol Hill threatens to undermine the Pentagon’s acquisition plans through a combination of uncertainty in the budget process and a lack of flexibility for program planners,” said Shaun McDougall, North America Military Markets and U.S. Defense Budget Analyst for Forecast International. The Pentagon has a long history of adapting to these types of scenarios, but the arbitrary nature of sequestration and its uncertain future make near-term planning especially difficult. All of the major services will have to make some tough choices to adjust to what many believe is the new normal in U.S. defense spending.
The Air Force said it will shield its KC-46 tanker, F-35 fighter, and future bomber from the worst of the cuts. The service is already having to scale back F-35 production rates to conform to budget caps, however, and the overall procurement target could fall in time. Requirements for the Long-Range Strike Bomber must also be kept in check in order to prevent costs from spiralling out of control. The Air Force has already tried to implement several force structure changes to conform to recent budget cuts, such as cutting airlift aircraft and Global Hawk UAVs, but has faced congressional backlash. Service leaders now say they may have to cut entire fleets of aircraft, such as the A-10, MC-12W, or KC-10, in order to increase savings. The Air Force may also cut additional C-130s, C-5s, and MQ-9s from their respective fleets. In the end, the Air Force says it could lose 25,000 airmen and 550 aircraft if sequestration cuts are left in place. Also at risk is the Combat Rescue Helicopter, for which Sikorsky is the sole remaining bidder. Upcoming priorities like a replacement for the E-8 Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS), as well as the T-X trainer program, could also be impacted.
The Army has already been undergoing a series of force structure changes due to its drawdown in the Middle East, though budget cuts are amplifying and accelerating those plans. Active-duty end strength is now slated to fall to 490,000 by FY15, two years earlier than planned, and officials warn that the service could shrink even further if sequestration remains in place.
The Army’s top vehicle acquisition priority, a Bradley replacement known as the Ground Combat Vehicle, could be pushed aside as the budget pressure rises. The Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV), a non-developmental effort to replace aging M113s, could fill its place as the Army’s number one vehicle program. The AMPV will cost less and carry lower developmental risk than the GCV, meaning the Army could save a significant amount of money in the near term by focusing on the AMPV. The service remains committed to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), and is also starting production of improved Paladin self-propelled howitzers. Upgrades to Abrams tanks and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) remain an area of contention, however, as lawmakers have been fighting a planned production break ahead of the next series of upgrades a few years down the road. At a time when every dollar counts, lawmakers may run out of momentum to continue providing the Army with upgraded vehicles it does not want.
Budget cuts have also resulted in lower procurement rates for Black Hawk, Chinook, and Lakota Light Utility helicopters, though again, Congress has been reinserting money into the budget to soften the blow. At the same time, the next attempt at a twice-failed replacement for the OH-58 Kiowa remains in limbo. Armed Aerial Scout demonstrations fell short of the Army’s goals, and budget cuts could limit the amount of funding available for a replacement effort. The AA